On Monday, Aug. 21, for the first time in 99 years, all of the continental United States will experience some degree of solar eclipse. While Bladen County does not lie in the path of totality — the name given to the area that will see complete blockage — residents should expect 97 percent coverage of the sun when the moon crosses between the earth and its brightest star.
Such an event will not occur again for 35 years.
In Bladen County, the moon will first enter the the edges of the sun’s path from the southern sky at 1:17 p.m. It will move south-southwest, then southwest, nestling in front of the sun at 2:26 p.m., the peak time for the Mother County. Its path will then take it west-southwesterly, until the last vestiges of the occurrence can be seen at 4:08 p.m, for a total of 2 hours and 51 minutes from start to finish. At its peak time, the occurrence will be visible at an altitude of 60.08° and at 227.09° (SW).
The best time to view the phenomenon, however, will be relatively short. The longest anyone will view the eclipse at its maximum point will be for 2 minutes and 43 seconds. Comparatively, about 70 percent of all solar eclipses are longer than this one, with the longest at 7.5 minutes.
The path of totality is a roughly 70-mile-wide swath running southeast from Oregon to South Carolina. Cities that will experience a total eclipse include Lebanon, Ore.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Casper, Wyo.; St. Joseph and St. Louis, Mo; Bowling Green, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; Greenville, S.C.; and Columbia, S.C. The only sector of North Carolina that should expect to see a total eclipse lies in the very southwestern portion of the state below Asheville.
For Bladen County residents wanting to view the total eclipse, several state or national parks are located in South Carolina within the path. They include Ninety Six National Historic Site, located in the town of Ninety Six; Congaree National Park in Hopkins; Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, located near Mt. Pleasant; and Fort Sumter National Monument, lying off the cost of South Carolina. In addition, many municipalities within the path of totality have local public parks.
Whether viewing a partial eclipse like in Bladen County or the total eclipse to the south, interested persons will need to take precautions.
“Even when 99 percent of the Sun’s surface (the photosphere) is obscured during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent Sun is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn,” advises NASA, adding that, since there are no pain receptors on the eye’s retina, nothing will alert viewers that damage is occurring.
Spectators are warned against looking directly at the phenomenon without proper safety equipment, such as pinhole viewers, viewing tubes, and glasses or other devices with solar filters. On Wednesday, NASA issued a warning about unsafe solar glasses, recommending only certified glasses from American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, or Thousand Oaks Optical. Any approved viewing devices should be marked with the “ISO” icon and be designated for ISO 12312-2. NASA also warned against using glasses more than three years old or glasses with scratched or wrinkled lenses.
The only time spectators can look on the view without equipment is during totality. If viewed from a location within the path of totality, and only during the few moments of total eclipse, spectators can observe the phenomenon with the naked eye.
“There is a misunderstanding being circulated that during a total solar eclipse when the moon has fully blocked the light from the sun, that there are still harmful ‘rays’ that can injure your eyes. This is completely false,” reads NASA’s web site. “When the bright photosphere of the sun is completely covered, only the faint light from the corona is visible, and this radiation is too weak to have any harmful effects on the human retina.”
During anything except totality, the sun’s ray’s can damage not only a person’s eyesight, but digital equipment as well. Cameras, binoculars, and telescopes should be fitted with solar filters in order to avoid damaging the mirrors or lenses.
While this year’s eclipse isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, it will be the best for quite some time in the region. Solar eclipses are fairly common — more so than lunar eclipses — occurring about two to four times per year. However, the shadows cast by solar eclipses are fairly small, usually around 50 miles wide, compared to lunar events, which can be seen by half the Earth at a time. On average, any given location on Earth will see a total solar eclipse once every 100 years.
The last total solar eclipse seen in the contiguous states occurred in 1979, when it was viewed by northwestern and north central states. Bladen County last saw a total eclipse in 1970.
The next two solar eclipses that, for Bladen County, will even come close to the August event in terms of the percentage of the sun blocked will occur in 2024 and 2045, both of which will result in around 75 percent of the sun being hidden. It will be 2053 before Bladen County will see a solar eclipse of this magnitude again, and the next total eclipse Bladen County will see will occur in 2078.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Information used in this article came from NASA.